In the final part of this month’s Digital Detox series, we’re swapping wifi for watercolours and picking up our paintbrushes with Brighton-based illustrator and card publisher, Louise Mulgrew.
Louise started painting animals for the first time after a trip to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi. She continued to grow her portfolio and develop her hand-drawn characterful style, selling her animal illustrations at local markets and fairs. In 2016, she showed her first collection of greeting cards at Spring Fair and five years on, her very first Furry Friends collection is still her best-selling range.
Now stocked in Waitrose, John Lewis, Waterstones, Fenwick and Paperchase, Louise Mulgrew Designs is an award-winning eco-friendly paper empire, supplying over 400 independent shops in the UK.
Keep reading to see how the team discovered their inner artist, got to grips with colour wheels and unleashed their creativity with the wonderful Louise Mulgrew.
To see more of Louise’s animal-loving work, you can find her over on Instagram at @louisemulgrew or visit her website here.
After the questionable masterpiece I created with Sophie Tea Art earlier this year – it was meant to be a heart, looked suspiciously like a butternut squash – I didn’t have a whole lot of faith in myself, ha. Alas, true to form, I fluffed up my colour wheel approximately 0.4 seconds into Louise’s class by drawing one too many segments. We needed 12, I had 14. Where do I go from here if not downhill? Poor, poor Louise, trying to teach me must have been a real career-low for her. My technical ability (or lack thereof) aside, I love the sense of calm that ensues when you’re playing with paint and working on paper. It’s such a treat to be screen-free which is what this activity is all about, after all!
For this workshop, we were using gouache which is an opaque watercolour paint. Starting with the colour wheel, Louise taught us how the primary, secondary and tertiary colours work together. Once we’d cracked that, some of us better than others (woe is me), we had a go at
painting some leaves and flowers, experimenting with various brushwork techniques, creating a colour wash for backgrounds, using dry brushes to build texture, blotting and using extra water to push the colour around the page to create a mottled effect. At this point, I wish I could redeem myself and tell you that I smashed this part of the class but I think we all know that foliage requires significantly more skill than colouring in a wheel. Louise made it look truly effortless, even painting petals upside down like the pro that she is. I’m in awe.
To bring this self-deprecating tale to its close, I love painting, it just doesn’t love me back and I’m quite gutted about it because I would like nothing more than for this to be a reciprocal romance. I kept looking over at Holly’s beautifully neat berry branch creations and wishing I could have such control over the way my hands behave when holding a paintbrush. I have to say though, from a digital detox perspective, dipping into your watercolours is the ideal activity to drag you away from your phones and laptops, especially with Louise at the helm. I dread to think how much more damage I would have done if I had digital distractions to contend with as well, haha. I’m forever grateful she didn’t task us with hedgehogs or elephants for our first go. Big thank you to Louise for having the patience of a saint to teach us (read: me) and for sharing her expertise with us. What a babe!
I was a little apprehensive going into this workshop as my art skills certainly leave a lot to be desired, (quickly realised after our workshop with Sophie Tea earlier this year) but I was pleasantly surprised both by how smoothly Louise guided us through the session and my final leafy results! I’ve never worked with gouache before but follow a few illustrators and designers who do and so was super intrigued to be giving it a whirl as a newbie. To my delight, I found it far more workable than either watercolour or acrylic and it seemed to hit a happy medium of buildable and opaque when used dry and more glossy and with the ability to create a light wash when adding water. First, we created a colour wheel to learn the basics of colour theory and how to create a range of shades from the main primary colours, and although this whole experience was supposed to be relaxing I found myself oddly stressed about making my wheel ‘perfect’ or as neat as possible. I had to take a step back and remind myself that you cannot dictate the outcome of creative and mindful tasks and that the aim of these activities is the detox from our screens and do something different with our minds! I think once I was able to let go of expectations and just enjoy the process a bit more I eased into it and really appreciated the challenge of trying something new.
Louise is so knowledgeable and a fantastic teacher who was extremely patient given the fact I apparently cannot follow simple instructions and messed up my colour wheel approximately 200 times, and learning from her was a real privilege! Her work is so gorgeous and even picking up a few tips, tricks and techniques that she uses in her daily practice was so insightful and left me feeling far more confident about picking up a paintbrush in the future.
Although I initially found the workshop a bit overwhelming (perfectionist tendencies alert), the time totally flew by and I left feeling like my brain really had an opportunity to time out and totally focus on the task at hand. As much as I love yoga and find it can really chill out my brain, I find my mind can still wander, whereas the concentration required in learning something new and focusing on something tangible was a real tonic.
I’m often left feeling a bit deflated post craft session as I’m simply terrible at most arty things but I really enjoy the actual doing part and taking my mind off the stresses of the world! The last time I painted was when we had Sophie Tea give us a tutorial for one of her infamous hearts and I was actually pretty proud of what I produced, so I went into this one with a bit more of an open mind!
Instead of just going straight into the deep end with attempting to paint a bunch of flowers Louise let us play with the paints and try making a colour wheel. This was such an interesting process as she really taught us how to make so many colours by just using primary red, blue, yellow and white. I know that probably sounds obvious and something we learnt at school but I really enjoyed learning about making so much with so little! The paints we used were Gouache and they felt like a combination between watercolour and acrylic, this meant if it started to ‘run out’ or dry up we could just add a bit of water and it would start flowing nicely again. There were so many effects you could use that looked so pretty when dry, I always think watercolours are really hard to get them where you want them whilst still keeping that lovely translucent effect but with Gouache you can manipulate them much more easily.
Painting is such a good DDD activity because you have something tangible to work on that you can see come to life is the best distraction to the digital world. Plus now I know I only need to buy 4 colours, it’s much cheaper than expected!
It felt so good to be getting arty again as it’s something I did quite often in education as I did textiles at A-Level and then a fashion degree, and although I love art it’s one of those things I don’t make the time for (terrible I know). I’m no Picasso, but art is fun and it’s nice to create something with your own hands which is one of a kind!
Louise was so lovely and creates such beautiful artwork, so I was really excited to get such an intimate masterclass with her. We started off by creating a colour wheel, apparently not as easy as one would think. I was missing a segment (maths wasn’t my strong point), it started off looking like a real mess, not the best circle I’ve ever seen. This was such an interesting process though, I have never learnt almost the art of creating so many different colours and the science behind it. By the end my lopsided circle didn’t look too shabby, I was actually quite impressed with my colour wheel ha!
We used a paint throughout called Gouache, firstly does anyone else just love the sound of that? I have a feeling I like it so much because it sounds like ganache hahaha. This paint had such an interesting texture, it was gooey and thick, but add a touch of water and you have a watercolour, super cool and versatile! We practiced our leafy strokes and Louise taught us all these different techniques to create our own masterpieces. We all had a good go at making some floral designs and the whole team made lovely art. I really enjoyed this DDD activity, art is such a brilliant way to distract your mind and take you away from screens, even for 30 mins. I have felt so lucky to do this Digital Detox Series and absolutely will be implementing this into my daily life, I think taking time every weekend to step away from it all, even for an hour, is my goal moving forward!